Approximately 1,500 dairy farmers and other professionals emerged from the long Wisconsin winter for the 2014 Professional Dairy Producers Conference in Madison, Wis., March 12-13. Farmers from 21 states and four countries gathered for five keynote speakers, 17 specialty sessions and networking with fellow farmers and other professionals.

Economist Dan Basse headlined day two of the conference, noting that “milk prices are projected to be up between 6-8% over last year as the dairy export market is very strong right now and feed costs are going down.”

“Fluid milk consumption in other countries are trending up as people are beginning to make more money in industrial nations like China,” Basse added. ”And with red meat prices being so high, dairy products have become the cheapest source of protein on the table.”

Wednesday evening’s keynote featured former White House Chef Walter Scheib, an outspoken champion of America’s bounty and the privileges shared by chefs and farmers.

“Food is the most distinctive mark of a culture,” Scheib said. “To me, American cuisine is like the farmers who grow it: friendly, accessible and broad shouldered.”

The message from Keynote Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, was clear: Transparency is not an option. It is the path that must be taken if dairy farmers want to build trust with consumers and have the social license to operate.

Arnot said building trust and being transparent requires an understanding that today’s consumer is disconnected from agriculture and does not understand the “why” behind dairy practices. This not-knowing leads to angst.

Instead of turning to science and hitting consumers with scientific facts or trying to educate the public with our own knowledge, Arnot urged attendees to convey shared values.

“Shared values are three to five times more important in building trust than demonstrating competence,” he said.

Summaries of all the speakers and conference highlights can be found at